I was shocked to hear on Wednesday that in UK there are 1.4 million people on zero-hour contracts. This is a revised number from the previous estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and is significantly higher than previously thought.
Those contracts mean that businesses can employ people without guaranteeing them any hours of work. Whilst the offer flexibility in some cases, But we know most employers don’t use them and for good reasons: the widespread use of zero-hours contracts is incompatible with building a loyal, skilled and productive workforce.
Most worryingly, the ONS have found that zero-hour contracts most typically effect females who are under 25 or over 65. Three quarters of a million women, more than twice as many as previously estimated are on zero hours contracts. These contracts tend to be used in particular sectors, such as hospitality and health – areas that generally employ greater number of women than men. This can be seen as a contributing factor in the gender pay gap rising for the first time in five years.
The release of an independent inquiry by Norman Pickavance, commissioned by the Labour Party, has said that ‘zero hour contracts are often used as a crude cost-reduction tool, and the lack of rules and safeguards governing their appropriate use leaves scope for abuse’. It has also highlighted the negative impact zero hour contracts have upon those forced into signing them. In light of these findings, Ed Miliband has announced last week that Labour will end the exploitative use of these contracts, and instead make sure that employees on zero hour contracts have certain rights. The steps the Labour Party will put in place are:
- To demand a fixed hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer;
- To receive a fixed hours contract automatically when they have worked regular hours over a year – unless they decide to opt out;
- To be protected from employers forcing them to be available at all hours, insisting they cannot work for anyone else, or cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.
His announcement underlines Labour’s commitment to improve living standards and help businesses build a more productive, successful economy across the UK
The current government have shown little interest in tackling the exploitative nature of this form of work. It’s a government too interested in protecting those at the top, to acknowledge the people who continue to pay the price of a cost of living crisis and the insecurity at work that they face.
As the Shadow Minister with responsibility for employment rights, I’m backing these proposals to ensure people are not exploited on zero hours contracts and there is a level playing field for the good businesses that do the right thing.